Caves: Missouri’s Underground Treasures

Fantastic Caverns

One of the best-loved things about Missouri is its distinct winter, spring, summer and fall. Sometimes it seems like the state experiences all four seasons in the same day, but Missouri has a perfect solution for that: go underground.

No matter the weather, the state’s caves stay a steady 55 to 60 degrees year-round.

Missouri is famously known as the “Show-Me State,” but it’s also called “The Cave State.” With more than 6,300 recorded caves, it’s an apt title. The ingredient list needed to create a cave is very short: limestone, water and uneven land – an accurate description of much of the state, particularly the Ozarks.

Onondaga Cave

Missouri caves have been attracting visitors for more than 100 years. Onondaga Cave in Onondaga Cave State Park has been a tourist attraction since 1897 and is celebrated for its colorful dripstones, flowstones and the spectacular “lily pad” room.

Meramec Caverns

Meramec Caverns, a successful saltpeter mine in the 1700s, hosted parties in the cave to escape the summer heat in the late 1800s. Jesse James is believed to have used the cave as a hideout. In 1933, Lester Dill bought the cave and opened it for public tours. Come marvel at the 70-foot-tall “Stage Curtain” formation in the Theatre Room, around which Dill developed his show cave.

Marvel Cave

Speaking of marvels, the deepest cave in the state is Marvel Cave, located in Silver Dollar City in Branson. With nearly 600 stairs leading to the depths – the descent into this National Natural Landmark is strenuous.

Fantastic Caverns

Enjoy a step-free tour at Fantastic Caverns in Springfield – the only ride-thru cave in America. Take in the views from a tram, pulled by a propane-powered Jeep, as you admire soda straws, cave pearls, massive columns, stalactites and stalagmites, all beautifully lighted.

Mark Twain Cave Complex

For a “literary” twist, visit Hannibal’s Mark Twain Cave complex – made famous in the novels of Missouri’s best-known author. In 2019, Samuel Clemens’s signature was discovered and authenticated on the wall of the cave named in his honor. The cave is a National Natural Landmark and has been offering organized tours since 1886. Unlike the rest of the state’s caves, Mark Twain and other caves in Hannibal are maze caves – a horizontal network of interconnecting passage loops. Part of the complex, Cameron Cave, is the third largest maze cave in the northern hemisphere.

Smallin Civil War Cave

Let the Smallin Civil War Cave sweep you underground and back in time. Guides tell stories of Native Americans carving steps into the cave and of Civil War encampments at the mouth of the cavern. See sharks’ teeth and shells embedded in the walls from when the region was once covered by the ocean. In October, special Civil War Cave Tours include a campfire dinner with costumed guides telling stories, followed by lantern lit trips into the cave.

Remember, nothing – not heat or cold, rain or snow – keeps travelers from a great Missouri adventure beneath the earth’s surface in a cave.